Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cleric Conundrum

In prowling the message boards relating to Old School gaming and D&D I have encountered the question of he Cleric class. People ask "What character or type in fantasy fiction is this supposed to emulate?". My guess is that the origins of the Cleric as a class come from he other half of D&D's heritage. The original game was billed as rules for "fantastic medieval" wargames. The Cleric class come from the medieval half of this, not the fantastic.

The Cleric is based on medieval stories of holy warriors, saints and miracle workers. Early D&D had a definite Christian gloss on much of the game world. Devils, demons, holy water, crosses (holy symbols came later), St. Cuthbert, etc. Clerical healing spells come from this tradition, as do spells such as Bless, Protection from Evil, Purify Food and Drink, et al. The Cleric's ability to turn and even destroy undead by presenting a holy symbol and exercising faith also comes from this. So to does the prohibition on shedding blood and therefor the restriction on using any but non-edged weapons. This was a Papal decree.

In non-Christian mythology, and also in most fantasy written before D&D, priests do not necessarily gain spell casting or other magical abilities from their worship of gods as marks of divine favor. Instead a priest may become a wizard or sorcerer like anybody else by study or making the appropriate pacts, but this is separate from their role as a priest. Priests may also freely wield sacrificial daggers and such. Indeed for many non-Christian priests the ban on edged weapons makes no sense. A priest of Apollo or Diana should favor the bow as this is the preferred weapon of their deity. Likewise priests following the Norse or Germanic gods might well be expected to favor the spear. Priests of Thor being an exception as they would likely use the hammer.

The forgoing is mostly an historical gloss on the Cleric class in RPGs.

In T&T a "priest" or "cleric" is a social status and profession, not a character Type or Class. You are a priest if you lead the worship of one or more deities. A holy warrior is a warrior (of any character type) in service of a deity or religious sect.

For those who want to construct a "Cleric" character in T&T I suggest the following. A Rogue Type (remembering that Rogue is short for Rogue Wizard, that is to say not trained by the Wizard's Guild), with a Talent for "Turning Undead". Being a Rogue he character is allowed to use any weapons and armor. The weapons chosen should be appropriate to the deity or religion the character is a follower of.nSpells would be those taught by the temple, again suited to the cult. The. talent for turning undead might be based on Charisma with the SR difficulty based on how high the MR of the undead in question is.

For those emulating the traditional D&D type Cleric weapons chosen would be blunt, and spells would focus on healing and protection.

I selected Charisma rather than Wizardry as the base attribute for turning undead as it is the character's force of personality and strength of Faith more than inherent magical power that is driving off the foe.


  1. Good handle on the "Priest Question."

  2. I enjoyed your history of the D&D cleric. I never realized it was a Papal decree that made clerics use blunt weapons. All that time I was playing D&D and I had no idea it had such inspiration from the Church. COOL. -Taran Dracon the ORC from Trollhalla